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The tone is nice but where’s the justice?

The tone is nice but where’s the justice?

Mary Hunt looks at the results of Vatican review of American nuns and is not impressed.

Writing in Religion Discpatches, she has three essential problems with the report:

First, there is the essentialism. Women’s “feminine genius” is a patriarchal fiction. Yet, it is trotted out time and again by Pope Francis and those who would curry his favor. In this report, “competent women religious will be actively involved in ecclesial dialogue regarding ‘the possible role of women in decision-making in different areas of the Church’s life.’” (EG, 104)

Any feminist genius will say that such nuancing is no substitute for a full-throated affirmation of human equality uttered with sleeves rolled up to create egalitarian civil and ecclesial structures. Anything less is bogus. Every time such code language is used, feminist geniuses will be happy to flag it for what it is.

Then there is “divide and conquer.”

Second, the document sets women in canonical religious communities against one another and over against other laywomen. If “competent women religious” are to be pseudo-clericalized as the next step forward, I say, no thank you.

The goal of progressive Catholics who have supported the nuns in this skirmish is not to make some of them equivalent to clerics in decision-making. Rather, it is to flatten out a hierarchal model of church so that all adult members can participate fully. Privileging women religious is an attempt to co-opt them.

Note the Vatican’s careful effort to claim an “essential difference” (par. 3) between vowed religious and their associates or co-members. This is purposely divisive as women’s religious communities are finding creative and life-giving ways to share their ministries and goods broadly. Just as I hope LCWR will not fall into the trap of being compared to CMSWR, neither should the rest of us take the bait nor allow ourselves to be divided over different lifestyle decisions and community connections. There is plenty of ministry and justice work for all.

Then there is the issue of economic justice. Nuns who were uncompensated or under-compensated for their work are still expected to tow the line.

Third, “follow the money” has never been better advice.

I found the financial discussion to be the most distressing part of the report. Among the reasons given why many congregations do not have sufficient resources to care for their sisters—including many elderly sisters who volunteer instead of getting paid, women who work with poor people and are not highly remunerated, for example—is “the long-term consequences of women religious having been undercompensated for their ministry over an extended period of time.” (par. 9)

Whose fault was that?

Another reason given is that “Some sisters serving in ecclesial structures receive relatively low salaries or have lost their positions in the downsizing of the institutions they serve.” (par. 9)

Well, those would be churches for the most part.

These statements astonish in their baldness. It is the institutional church that “undercompensated” women religious for generations. In parishes and schools, priests and nuns inhabited entirely different economic circles, with nuns modeling simple living before it was fashionable while many priests drove late model cars, had housekeepers, and lovely quarters.

Reparations are in order. How about some millions of the Vatican’s newly found “hundreds of millions of Euros” (their creative accounting is a subject all its own) going to women’s religious communities to make up for centuries of economic injustice? If not, let every Vatican official take a vow of silence about women’s economic choices.

Posted by Andrew Gerns


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